Balkinization  

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sunday Times: British Cabinet Told in July 2002 To Come Up With Way To Make War Legal

JB

In a follow up to its story on the Downing Street Memo, The London Sunday Times reports that British cabinet officials were told in July 2002 in a secret Cabinet Office Briefing paper that the U.S. and Britain were planning on going to war and to come up with a way to make the invasion of Iraq "legal." This contradicts the assertions by President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair that the two went to the U.N. in the fall of 2002 not as an excuse to justify war but rather to prevent war, and that the use of force was a policy of last resort.
MINISTERS were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.

The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary to create the conditions” which would make it legal.

This was required because, even if ministers decided Britain should not take part in an invasion, the American military would be using British bases. This would automatically make Britain complicit in any illegal US action.

“US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia,” the briefing paper warned. This meant that issues of legality “would arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK participation”.

The paper was circulated to those present at the meeting, among whom were Blair, Geoff Hoon, then defence secretary, Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, and Sir Richard Dearlove, then chief of MI6. The full minutes of the meeting were published last month in The Sunday Times.

The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.

“It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject,” the document says. But if he accepted it and did not attack the allies, they would be “most unlikely” to obtain the legal justification they needed.

The suggestions that the allies use the UN to justify war contradicts claims by Blair and Bush, repeated during their Washington summit last week, that they turned to the UN in order to avoid having to go to war. The attack on Iraq finally began in March 2003.

The briefing paper is certain to add to the pressure, particularly on the American president, because of the damaging revelation that Bush and Blair agreed on regime change in April 2002 and then looked for a way to justify it.

There has been a growing storm of protest in America, created by last month’s publication of the minutes in The Sunday Times. A host of citizens, including many internet bloggers, have demanded to know why the Downing Street memo (often shortened to “the DSM” on websites) has been largely ignored by the US mainstream media.

The White House has declined to respond to a letter from 89 Democratic congressmen asking if it was true — as Dearlove told the July meeting — that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” in Washington.

The Downing Street memo burst into the mainstream American media only last week after it was raised at a joint Bush-Blair press conference, forcing the prime minister to insist that “the facts were not fixed in any shape or form at all”.


Together with the Downing Street Memo, this story is important not simply because of the notion (in the Downing Street Memo's words) that intelligence and facts were "fixed" around the policy of going to war. Rather, it is important because it indicates that President Bush was determined to go to war by July 2002 (and probably in April 2002 according to the latest memo) even though he repeatedly insisted that he had not made up his mind and that he would weigh all options. Indeed, the stated reason for consulting with allies and going to the United Nations was to find a way to avoid war. War was "the last option." The Downing Street Minutes and the Cabinet Report show that this was all a ruse; the President was determined to go to war and he was using his consultations with allies to pressure them to go along; similarly, he went to the U.N. not to stop war but as a way to engineer an excuse for going to war.

The question worth considering is whether this sort of lie about the government's intentions-- for there really is no other word to describe it-- is one we should allow a President to make in the conduct of war and foreign policy. Should a President who is determined to go to war in any event be permitted, or perhaps even expected, to deny his committment to war in public until the moment he feels it politically appropriate to announce it, many months after Congress had given him authorization to act if war became necessary?

Here is another way to look at it. We live in democracy, and the choice to go to war is one of the most important that our elected representatives make. If in seeking authorization for the use of military force the President lies to Congress about his intentions to go to war, does this matter? If the President had said to Congress in the fall of 2002: "I am determined to go to war and I want your authorization" would the debate over authorization of the use of military force have been different? Would public sentiment have been different? Did some Congressmen and Senators vote to give the President authorization to use military force believing that Bush was sincere, that he would try to stop war if he could, and that voting for the resolution would strengthen his hand in trying to avert war? Or did all of them think that this was fluff, pretty words not to be taken seriously, and that war was inevitable?

I don't think that these are easy questions at all.


Comments:

I think they ARE easy questions. War is a "bet the house" decision. If you're wrong, you're busted. Both honesty and accuracy are required. If Bush lied, or if he was inaccurate about WMD, or both, he should resign.
 

I generally respect and enjoy Michael Kinsley but he has been too demanding of proof presented to the public to condemn Bush. Kinsley's column in the LATimes (and WaPo) today may have been written before the disclosure of the second British memo reported in the Sunday Times. Nor is Kinsley that impressed by the failures of Bush's announced reasons for going to war with Iraq. Perhaps Kinsley's legal training requires no reasonable doubt before public opinion conviction of Bush and his administration. But what were Kinsley's standards regarding Clinton? Hillary is right about the media.
 

If a person--a president included--says one things in one situation, and something quite different and contradictary in another, we know that both statements aren't true, but knowing just that, and nothing more, we don't know which statement is true and which is the lie. So that leaves me a bit curious why you'd assume that Bush was telling the truth to allies and lies to everyone else. Perhaps he was lying to the allies about his resolute desire for war, to spur action, when in fact he hadn't reached the conclusion he was telling them he'd reached. There are, of course, a thousand such possible explanations.

Further, why would it matter what the president's private intentions are when he makes certain public statements? Should we imagine that all senators who voted in favor of authorizing the Iraq invasion were actually convinced of the merits of the policy, rather than the political advantage of the vote? Why can't fellow citizens assume that a vote in favor of a war resolution is made for reasons related to the merits of the resolution, so that a vote in favor for other reasons is a betrayal of the public trust?

It seems to me that when one votes for legal authority for an action, one votes for just that, regardless of whether one has received assurances on the side that such authority won't be exercised, or will only be used in circumstances acceptable to all. If those were the conditions of the authority, why weren't they expressed in the text?
 

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